In Bad Days in Basra: My Turbulent Time as Britain’s Man in Southern Iraq, Hilary Synnott, 58, was only weeks away from an early retirement after a career spanning 11 years in the Royal Navy and 30 years in the Diplomatic Service, half of which occurred in developing countries with large Muslim populations.
Then he was asked to be the senior civilian representative in southern Iraq. Synnott agreed to a 6 month tour as head of the Coalition Provisional Authority for the South, based in Basra, in an area holding 4.5 million Iraqis on a quarter of the country’s land mass, and hosting 11,000 British military personnel. The goal of the CPA was to establish a secure, peaceful, and democratic Iraq, but he described the situation as “a bloody mess.”
Funny he should call it that. Synnott underwent a customary medical check which revealed he had mild hemophilia. After another medical check at St. Thomas’s Hospital in London (right next to Big Ben), Synnott commented, “… the doctors provided me with a special medication kit and a supply of needles intended to clot the blood in the event of injury. It was all contained in an insulated plastic bag, to keep the medication cool. I was told to keep the whole lot in a fridge and to learn how to administer the potions myself since the accompanying instructions would be too complicated for non-specialists to follow in a hurry.” Synnott took the factor with him to Basra: “The bag stayed at the bottom of a cupboard, to emerge six months later covered in sand.”
It’s surprising that his hemophilia had not been diagnosed while he served on submarines in the Royal Navy. With regret, Synnott evaluated the civilian contributions as a disappointing failure because it was an impossible situation for a myriad of reasons. The author currently serves as a Senior Fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, and this book sounds like a good read!
Good Book I Just Read
The Red Pony by John Steinbeck
Another good read is this classic. I last read it in high school, and mindful of the high school summer reading list for my daughter, I chose to dust this one off and read it again. I was struck by the very simplistic language, and paucity of creative phrases. Very simple writing, in short sentences, but a poignant story. It’s a marvel how much emotion is betrayed through the simple style. There is also lots of foreshadowing. The story follows Jody, a ten-year-old boy, who receives a red pony as a gift from his emotionally-withdrawn and stern father, and from his warm farm-hand Billy Buck. It’s a sad story, but one you can relate to if you have ever lost a pet. There are also three more short stories about Jody and his family: all portray the simplicity of farm life in dry and hot mid-20th century California, but the complexity in family life, and depths of a child’s mind and heart. Three stars.